February 12, 2009 Subject:
Camp, Court and Siege
Wickham Hoffman was a senior member of the US embassy in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune of 1870-71 (he later went on to become US Ambassador to Denmark). In this short by fascinating memoir, published just 6 years after the events, he describes what it was like to live in Paris during the siege - the hot air balloons and carrier pigeons used for communications; the eating of the zoo animals - Hoffman partook in eating a famous elephant - the rats and cats and dogs used as food. As a senior diplomat, Hoffman had personal access to high level officials and related some interesting stories that occurred between Bismark and US General Sherman, who was there as an observer and adviser. The descriptions of the Paris Commune days are very interesting, it helps to be already familiar with the events to follow along. He generally sees the "Communists" as criminal gangs ruled by "King Mob", but this is not surprising since the insurgents were from the working class and Hoffman would have both personally and professionally been opposed as a senior government official. Yet he is also sympathetic to the slaughter that occurred. Overall an interesting first-person account.